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6.1 Substance

The Latin term substantia, translated as “substance,” is often used to refer to the basic reality supporting or standing under features that are incidental to that same thing. Ancient Greek philosophers were both monists and dualists. Indian philosophers developed the idea of atomism. The challenge of persistence (i.e., whether a thing could be said to retain identity despite changes introduced through time) can be explored through the Ship of Theseus thought experiment.

6.2 Self and Identity

There are different answers to the question “What is the self?” The Judeo-Christian view tends to posit the “really real,” or the true self, in terms of a soul. Hindu and Buddhist views identify the self with the “atman.” Atman is an ancient term and has many meanings, but typically the term is translated as eternal self, soul, or even breath. Unlike in the Judeo-Christian view, the soul is reincarnated until the self attains release from reincarnation (moksha). The Buddhist doctrine of No Self (anatman) challenged the Western view in which the self is understood as enduring. There is no persistent self; within Buddhism, the “me” is ephemeral.

A second issue addressed within this subsection is the reality of the mind. Many people identify the mind as the brain. Perhaps the attempts to reduce thinking to an independent mind are relics of an outdated view. The hard problem of consciousness is identified as the inability to explain one’s awareness of being aware. Behaviorism, the understanding of the self in terms of behavior, is one possible explanation for the ultimate reality of the self.

6.3 Cosmology and the Existence of God

The attempt to demonstrate the existence of God has taken many forms and occurred across multiple cultures. Cosmological arguments consider that which is found in experience—that is, they are a posteriori and move from observed effects to cause. Ontological arguments are not based in experience but call upon people as thinkers to apply reason in order to reach a conclusion (i.e., they are a priori arguments). These arguments, much as a geometer might consider the nature of a triangle and then prove a theorem concerning triangularity, do not appeal to experience. Rather, they pose that the basic attributes of God are known through reason. Moral theorists argue for the existence of a divine being through a consideration of the possibility of objective values.

How might the existence of evil support or argue against the existence of a god? The evidential problem of evil considers the reality of suffering and challenges the attributes we might apply to God given the existence of suffering. As not all traditions assume the same cosmology, some traditions (such as the African or Yoruban view) do not have this particular issue. Augustine, working within a Christian cosmology, attempted to answer the challenge by positing evil as the absence of good. Thus, a god could not be challenged as being good if evil existed as evil was merely the privation (absence) of good.

6.4 Free Will

Does the sensation of freedom prove the existence of freedom? The metaphysical libertarian response declares that human action are free and outside of the causality observed governing natural objects. Because free choices exist, we are culpable for our decisions. The determinist response, in its so-called hard form, states that all actions are governed by the laws and principles observed in nature. According to this view, people’s actions, although accompanied by a feeling of freedom, are not in fact free. This section considers the soft determinist position, in which, as long as the moral agent did not face internal constraints concerning the choice at hand, the action could be free. Soft determinism is considered a compatibilist position, as the lack of alternative possibilities was considered compatible with freedom. Indeterminism, observing the inability of human reason to capture reality and all cause-and-effect chains in totality, asserts that the possibility of one event being outside of a cause-and-effect sequence is enough to assert the possibility of human freedom.

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